Skylines Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a perfect example of a seemingly finite universe in which a quite small amount of land has been pointed toward a certain kind of efficiency–building up and down rather than outward–in effect searching for ways to find space within rather than without. With its background as imperial playground and now its multi-cultural identity going far to define it as China-but-not, Hong Kong is a perfect place to get (very) lost and still feel warmly surrounded and enclosed by people of all makes and models.
KOWLOON is a big beautiful sewer, awash with gorgeous rats. Humid and rife with an armada of smells in her harbor: smells of the sea and shit, dim sum and diapers, tobacco and Tsing Tao. I’m staying where I always stay in Asian cities: in the ghetto with the illegals and no names, foreigners and prostitutes, criminals and the working class- a crowd which Jesus would approve, the lifeblood as it were, and then there are the ubiquitous touts on every corner proffering fake Rolex, real hash, faux Gucci, real women, ersatz Versace, real annoyance- this is Nathan Road. I am targeted for my pigment, my melanin. 8 of 10 apparently being too dark-skinned to be dollar rich, the random Brit and I (not together mind you) walking the wide crowded boulevard, remain the only recipients of such special offers as Pressure Point foot massages, exquisitely tailored almost-Armani suits and of course the superfluous Chinese Virgin…”Comes with the set meal!” I expect to hear next, yet somehow don’t. The thought arises concerning job security in this latter category, though knowing the Chinese’s affinity for their daughters, most likely not something to give a lot of thought to.
Here in this part of the city, on these long traversive roads, one tends to walk faster than any double-decker tourist special. One weaves and bobs like a prize fighter in training, with that special glint in the eye focusing toward some future destination. Though if those eyes should linger too long on any would be prize, if too much interest be shown in any merchandise, human or otherwise, the possibility of being pestered and followed for blocks by a never-ending flow of Indian, Pakistani, Nigerian or other-blooded touts looms too large for comfort. So I walk on, turn corners, round blocks, repeat, retrace, I check out a possible restaurant in two to three passes before committing, whereupon I do not stand outside like some pasty German in overly tight safari shorts with his fat wife gawking at the plastic display. No. But rather walking in, in full stride, head up high with eyes scanning, sitting as strategically as possible (for a potentially quick getaway should it be needed) and I order the local beer as quickly as possible.
The truth is I enjoy all these things to a certain extent- the dirt, the constant pestering, the humidity, the walking, the smell of the earth, the sweat, blood, and genitals all intermingling in intimate proximity to fellow humans, swarthy or not. Though they reside at the periphery of my journey, though I pass them by, they too matter. They also are part of the process. For what I seek is simple, friends. What I seek is food. And no matter how much shit I have to trudge through to reach my destination, sometimes known sometimes not, I shall pass.It's the BBQ prawns which I can't get out of my head, the taste off my tongue. Here comes the… Click To Tweet
As diverse as Hong Kong is English is everywhere. Good English too, at least compared to the Japanese. The Chinese are Asia’s consummate businessmen and thusly realize the power of properly utilized linguistics. Most any restaurant I walk in to has an English menu, albeit offering slightly inflated prices, telling me of the: oceans of shrimp, ox tail, beef tongue, pork neck, duck wing, camel hoof, shark fin, turtle soup- the translation of which leads me to actually knowing what I shall soon be served as opposed to (yet another) bout of random pointing at Chinese Characters, because though the businessmen of Hong Kong do know their English, the citizenry have yet to learn word one, nor do they care to, especially the wait staff, it would seem.
Having gotten my beer and a roomful of odd stares from the customers (none of whom are drinking anything but tea with their dinner), I down a few glasses of the ice cold Tsing Tao and kick back, preparing the various soy and sweet chili sauces. But here comes my order- nothing fancy for dinner- BBQ prawns fried in sugarcane, the Vietnamese veggie harumaki- fat thumbsized bastards all of them, come with a plate of lettuce the mama-san mimes me to wrap the spring roll in and then dip in the strong chili paste, and finally my weakness, some octopus tentacles. It’s the BBQ prawns which I can’t get out of my head, the taste off my tongue. Here comes the second order, blindingly hot wrapped around thick chunks of bamboo, hot and sweet, washed down with a second tallboy of Tsing Tao. Visions of cows and their two stomachs float by, but I’ve already ordered more than usual, so I finish my beer and pass on, rolling a smoke outside and venturing onto the next joint.
The Chinese are nighthawks, up all hours selling, buying, eating, drinking, smoking, touting, pimping, dealing, double-dealing, even perhaps loving. The opportunity for good food, good photos, strange conversations, illicit meetings, dark alley connections, neon-lit exclamations, convenience store forays, porn-mag expeditions, brothel look-sees never ends. Then there’s still the endless sidewalk running alongside this British-dubbed Nathan Road, walled in on all sides by a million different nationalities, all vying for one more Hong Kong Dollar. Well friends, tonight I’m buying. Anyone know a good place for snake, boar, bear, pigeon or raccoon at 5am?
The day starts a deep dark gray and seems to settle that way, as if it likes it just fine. The streets wet from rain or the perpetual sweat the city secretes from its myriad glands, I cannot tell. The touts at their posts already, yawning yet with eyes apeel for the day’s fresh white meat. Sipping a mango smoothie, I makeway through morning traffic with one thing on my mind: dim sum. A local points me toward Happy Market Noodle Factory recommending the congee. I find it, walk in and sit while the mama-san impatiently taps her foot as I sip my tea and take in the 10 page menu she just slammed down on the sticky table.
I say “Beer” motioning big as she husks off whispering something to the other 8 waitresses lounging about beneath strange posters of various mostly deep-fried flora and fauna, all looking eerily similar. I need the time it takes her to get my beer so as to justify my slow perusal of the menu’s breadth and overall depth of selection. I imagine myself a fortune cookie maker: “One must take their time when ordering so as not to miss the menu’s secret back-alley specials.” Somewhere a gong carols. Birds flap off. A baby cries.
Mama comes back and I know another drink won’t keep her from tossing me out, so I order a mudfish congee to appease her and keep scanning, my eyes jitterbugging back and forth past typical boring, safe tourist fare. I linger a bit over shark fin soup, but can’t bring myself to sanction such brutality. The ox-ball dumplings in oyster sauce with braised bok choy sounds good. Never had testicles before. Penis yes. Testes no. That’ll serve nicely as an apres-main and for the second course…it’s then I see it, big and posterized above a waitress picking her nose: Deep Fried Pigeon.
My choice is made. Screw dim sum. I. Must. Have. Pigeon. My mouth, which before had merely been expecting testicles, now goes into salivary overproduction mode. My belly rumbles and rolls in anticipation. My fingers even begin surreptitiously to move toward my lips, preparing to be licked. As if a sudden case of low blood sugar has set in, I have the shakes. I’m flushed and prickly. My dick is hard.
I head to the bathroom to steady myself, throw water on my face. Looking in the mirror I flash on my ex-girlfriend and her vocal disgust for what she termed “flying rats”. What would be her reaction to my breakfast choice: would she hug me to her bosom for ridding the world of one more foul beast or revile me in disgust for putting such a vile, dirty creature across my lips?
Shrugging, I head back to my table, passing the kitchen, full of a fresh delivery of duck carcasses, some brown and crispy-skinned, others pale and limp, all piled next to various heaps of pig legs, necks, feet, cow tongues, ox tails, and what look like a bevy of genitalia all queued up for the big Oak-round cutting board and that mad-eyed Kahn lookalike with the cleaver in his hand and blood on his apron. Steam floats about in all directions, whistling and shooting like from old locomotives, while small, angular men in white wield knives with deadly accuracy, moving with a precision memorized by muscles years ago. There is no waste. Not in animal nor in preparation. It is a pleasure to watch.
It is only then I notice my the pounding in my ears. Suddenly everything’s sped up. My pulse ascending to double beats. Blood rushing to the surface of my clammy skin. My walk is thick and loud like slow motion through a bog. I imagine MSG poisoning feels like this. Was the bear liver I had yesterday bad? The Panda anus not quite bacteria free?
It’s nothing. Nerves. Excitement. Sexual rush. I get back to my table and, steaming and popping in grease rivulets, here comes my pigeon. It’s smaller than I expected, though defeathered, what isn’t? As it’s served whole (it’s fried little head, eyes and beak rendered so perfectly…adorable) I glance at my chopsticks, then at the bird, then at my steady surgeon hands and I have at it, dropping the chopsticks and tearing into it. Literally ripping it in half and sucking all I can out of its fried little ass. There are no barriers anymore.
I flay the skin from its neck and, peeling up and over the head, I bite down until it breaks between my teeth, sucking out all the marrow from the neck bones. I slurp at the eyes, test the beak, chaw on the spine. I want to consume it whole. And not for my ex and for anyone who ever hated on one of these so-called winged rodents, but instead to take the yoke off of its much maligned back and put it on mine. Suddenly I see a light. I hear beautiful singing. And then I know.
From now on little fellow, in eating you, in consuming you whole, sins and all, I relieve you of your earthly burdens and take them for myself. From this point forward Brother Pigeon, I feel your pain, just like all the clawed, taloned, hoofed, scaled and winged animals I have taken your deliciousness into my body and allowed to strengthen me in my journey to rid the world of treachery toward our collective. Thank you, brother, for your life, tasty as it was, given unwillingly, has now become mine and until I can no longer eat another of your winged kin, can step no longer to the cutting board to declaw you, can no longer chew my own food, I will live this life in strength and peace, pursuing wisdom and offering respect to all those who seek to enlighten us on our collective journey down the Right Path.
A photographic work-in-progress focusing on the communities in which we reside and the lines, sometimes invisible sometimes not, that connect us. This project began in Hong Kong in 2007 documenting how we layout, build, maintain and ultimately view ourselves within the large-scale cityscapes in which we move to and fro, work and live, love and kill. Suggesting not only what we see before us but also the larger and more mysterious nature of the cities and therefore the societies that we make, as well as their reverberations spreading outward from the center to the fringes. I remain fascinated by exploring new places with my camera and a few rolls of film, after which revisiting old places provides me a parallax perspective, fresh ideas and new insight into how we continue to add to the world of our forefathers and mothers.